Recently, I’ve been on a number of conference calls with groups of people scattered across the United States. My preference is to do video calls. Especially now that there are so many good technologies like Google+ hangouts, GoToMeeting, WebEx, and others.
Alas, the conference call is still sometimes a necessity. On a recent call, there were 2 different people trying to lead the call (one of them was me). There were over a dozen people on the call from 4 different time zones. I couldn’t tell who was speaking. People were talking over each other. It was a free-for-all.
I had another conference call that I led two days ago that went like clock-work. 26 minutes and we were done. What was the difference? I followed these rules.
The 7 Rules of Conference Call Etiquette
- There must be a clear leader/moderator of the call – This is the person that keeps the call on track. Time is valuable. When you multiply the time spent on a call times the number of people on the call, multiples of hours are spent on a conference call. There has to be a driver of the bus.
- There must be an agenda – Not only must there be an agenda, but it needs to be in front of everyone. The agenda keeps the meeting on track, and allows all on the call to know the purpose of the call. It gives direction.
- Announce yourself – This was the single biggest difference between the “free-for-all” call and the quick and efficient one. Announcing yourself when you speak has two huge benefits. First, it is polite to let those on the call know who is speaking since they can’t see you. Don’t assume people know the sound of your voice. Second, it almost entirely eliminates interruptions. I was surprised by this, but think about it. You aren’t as likely to cut someone off or talk over someone if you are announcing who you are first. “This is Jack from Ohio and I’m going to interrupt you now.”
- Keep the group as small as possible – This is common sense. So what do you do if you have a large group? Divide them up. We are planning a national conference with over a dozen people on the call. One of our team had the brilliant idea to break into smaller teams depending on which day of the conference you had responsibility. We now have 2 calls instead of 1, but the groups are smaller and it is so much easier to make decisions and get off the call quickly.
- Practice impeccable phone etiquette – There is nothing worse on a call than background noise. Typing is heard. A side conversation is happening. The background noise kills the mojo of the call and is simply rude. It is so easy to be distracted on a call like this and start checking email, etc. I get it. Just make sure your line is muted.
- Make sure you have a good connection – Cell phones are tricky. Regardless of my love for Verizon, sometimes I will still have a bad connection. If at all possible, dial in from a landline. I am not a fan of VOIP in this context.
- Set these ground rules and the beginning of the call – This is the leader’s job. At the beginning of the call, the leader should welcome everyone and then lay out the ground rules. Don’t assume that those on the call understand the guidelines for a quick and efficient call. The leader’s role is huge in setting the tone, keeping the call on track, and making sure that everyone is engaged. If someone is not speaking up, call them out and invite them to share their thoughts.
A parting thought – if more than one person is in charge of something, then no one is. I’m sure that is someone else’s quote, but I don’t know who. It is so true. A conference call is held because a group is trying to accomplish a task. Ensure that each part of that task is owned by someone. Then hold them accountable for the results.
I want to hear the horror stories of terrible conference calls that you have been on. What rules have I missed? Share with us!